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Statement from President Casteen Concerning Continental Tire Bowl-2003

January 2, 2003

Jan. 2, 2003 — On Saturday, Dec. 28, our football team and West Virginia University's met in one of the year's most successful bowl games, the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, NC. This event was an unqualified success. Both teams and those who attended the game enjoyed remarkable support from the City of Charlotte and from bowl officials and sponsors.

Regrettably, our pep band's halftime performance offended quite a number of people from both schools because it ridiculed West Virginians. It seems clear to me that the pep band both paid too little attention to pre-game publicity about the controversy that occurred 17 years ago when a similar skit prompted then-President Robert O'Neil to apologize, and thought too little about the principles of sportsmanship that apply to intercollegiate football games. To be fair about it, the current band members were infants or toddlers in 1985. In the years since 1985, so little contact has occurred between sports teams from our two universities that few or none of today's students know what happened then. In addition, the officials who approved the skit paid too little attention to this earlier event. Not all who have complained will want to accept my view, but I have come to believe that the band's attempted spoof, however ill or well conceived, worked badly, and that our common problem now is to learn from this event and move on.

Last Sunday's Charlotte Observer referred to this performance as “an adolescent skit,” an assessment not unlike what I am hearing from others. I have tried without success to locate a videotape of the performance so that I might view it in its entirety. None has turned up.

In recent years, the NCAA and the ACC have focused much attention on sportsmanship. The principles of conduct they outline specifically prohibit ridiculing the opposing team or its fans, a prohibition that explicitly applies to bands, mascots, cheerleaders, and similar school personnel. The band leader and Athletics Department personnel are required to know this principle of operation. In approving the pep band's script, both our officials and the bowl's officials failed to enforce this principle as they should have. This is not a matter of specific penalties, which apply only if they are assessed by the officials overseeing the game, but it is a matter of serious concern to me. That the pep band is an independent organization does not exempt it from the ACC and NCAA principles of good sportsmanship. Under these principles, it is an entity of the Athletics Department when it performs at a football game.

The band's appropriate function is to support the team and foster an exciting, positive atmosphere for all. West Virginia's band did this in its performance. Whatever else might be said about conduct on both sides before, during, or after the game, our band probably did not. Trying to be funny, it crossed the line between humor and the ridicule that the ACC, the NCAA, and simple decency proscribe. We will examine how the band works and how performances might be improved in the course of the next several weeks.

Sad to say, the performance has diverted attention from the success of a young football team that exceeded all expectations this season. Post-game reviews have said little or nothing about this team and its successes, and a great deal about (of all things) the band. The football team, those who attended the game, and indeed the pep band, whose members have worked hard to try to do the right thing, deserve better. For all of this, I am sorry.

We respect our colleagues at West Virginia University and also West Virginians generally. As the Bluefield Daily Telegraph pointed out on Sunday, we are all pretty much the same. We are related.

Prior to the game, I participated in a program on the West Virginia Metro radio network. I said then that I am grateful for the long history of collaboration that conjoins our two universities. Our children study at Morgantown; Morgantown's and West Virginia's children study here. Faculty members conduct research collaboratively in both places. Our alumni serve on WVU's faculty, and WVU's serve on our faculty. Many alumni have earned degrees from both universities.

I said also that I hope to see more frequent match-ups between our teams and WVU's than have occurred in recent years. (I fear this is something that this sad controversy may delay to our mutual detriment.) Perhaps all of us have some learning and growing to do before that can happen. For my part, I will continue to hope for a day when mutual respect and the appropriate affections that ought to exist among people who share as much as Virginians and West Virginians do will be the rule, not the exception.